The Unionization Of Bodybuilding: What Is Needed?

In this article I shall discuss politics and culture, unions, communism, feudalism, and economics and capitalism, as they relate to bodybuilding.

As many of you will know, in past articles I have written in depth about issues dealing with psychology and philosophy. In this article, I introduce to you my views on a third element: Politics.

It seems as though no matter where you turn in our present age, politics, once the talk of businessmen and members of the social elite, has joined the ranks of the mainstream populace. Politics now dominates everyday life in North America and the world.

Many opinions exist amongst the population as to which party is best and which style of government is suitable to govern the populace. On either side of the argument two positions exist: The first are people who advocate communism, and on the other side, those who advocate unrestricted capitalism and democracy. As Clint Eastwood remarked, however, "opinions are like a-holes, everyone's got one." Clearly, not every opinion is informed.

When it comes to bodybuilding, as with every other facet of life, politics is a reality that cannot be ignored by the wise. Sure, it is true that many remain ignorant of politics as it applies to bodybuilding, but this outlook is very shortsighted. Understanding politics is essential to living in the modern world. Anyone who chooses to remain ignorant does so at his or her own peril. If bodybuilding is your profession, understanding politics is required.

In this article I shall discuss politics and culture, unions, communism, feudalism, and economics and capitalism, as they relate to bodybuilding. I challenge you to consider the issues presented and give these subjects your serious attention.

-> Politics And Culture:

As mentioned, Politics dominates every facet of contemporary life. Lawmakers who are elected pass laws, and those laws often have a direct effect on everything we do. The old saying of "You don't want republicans in the bedroom or democrats in the boardroom" demonstrates the idea that politics is at all places where human behavior occurs.

The word "Politics" is derived from the Greek word Politika, but Politics is older than humanity. Although the ancient Greeks in Athens implemented the first semi-democracy and developed a prototype of politics and civilization for the West, Politics may be seen amongst primates and primitive civilizations.

Primatologists have demonstrated that in mountain gorillas' females play active roles in defusing male-male conflict when males coexist in the same group (Sicotte, 1994).

Furthermore, researchers have observed male gorillas wrestling for status within the tribe. And finally, a dominant male Gorilla known as the Silverback is the undisputed head of the gorilla tribe (Russell, 1986).

This arrangement shows a system of culture and politics at work amongst the gorillas, which are known as pongids in the hominoid family. Other species of primate have also been observed to have a culture [the Macaques of Japan, for example].

Given that human beings are genetically related to other members of the hominoid family, we too have a culture; culture being a product of genetics and the complex social environment (Durham, 1991). By virtue of our culture we have politics. Politics, then, is a product of culture.

For example, consider Sparta in the age of the Greek City States. From 499-479 B.C.E. Sparta had fought the Persian Wars, and then in 431-404 B.C.E. the Peloponnesian war against Athens was fought (Noble et al, 2002). Because of the cultural atmosphere [militaristic order], Sparta was ruled by an Oligarchy (Noble et al, 2002). Thus its politics were a response to, and a product of, its culture.

By contrast, Athens introduced the first semi-democracy ["semi" because slavery was practiced]. During its golden age Athens produced works of art and literature. Its emphasis on education and intelicism allowed its politics to allow for debate and discussion. Thus, its politics were a response to, and a product of its culture.

Therefore, it can be said that politics is a product of culture. But what is culture? Defined, culture is "the enduring behaviors, ideas, attitudes, and traditions shared by a large group of people and transmitted from one generation to the next." (Myers, 2001). With that definition before us, it is hard to escape the reality: Bodybuilding is a culture. And by extension, it must have its own politics. And so it does.

The politics of bodybuilding is well known, primarily because of dissenting opinions within the bodybuilding establishment. Many, not content with the present system, feel it necessary to highlight the current structures flaws. These people are doing so on a continual basis, and many of their concerns are valid. We shall examine those concerns and propose a logical solution at the end of this article.

Among all creatures [and especially humans] politics may best be understood as "a cultural adaptation resulting in procedure that governs human activity and interaction." Although this may sound like a definition for "Law", for our purposes it shall apply to politics. Politics, though, is exactly that: A system, a structure, which regulates human behavior and the way in which human beings interact. It does so according to culture. We shall now examine the various responses to culture and their application.

-> Unions And Communism:

During the middle years of the 20th century, when the subject of a "union" came up, controversy resulted. But not today. In today's North American work environment, unions are commonplace. They are often thought to protect the worker and ensure that his or her rights are respected. Unions are seen as a sign of strength, and if you don't belong to one you are seen as being vulnerable.

However, reality is not as simple as ideology. The best test of any ideology is application in the real world. With the protection of a union, fighting for "the little guy" against the "big guy" does occur. However, as in all things collective, one loses individual freedom and must go with the tide of the masses. Unions offer protection in numbers, but also assimilation.

The Soviet Union of the 1930's is the perfect demonstration of unions at work. The proletariat banded together against the bourgeoisie and "fought for the little guy" against the "capitalistic pig exploiters." This idea was great in theory - in the theory of Karl Marx, and later Lenin. However, in reality it did not work.

The individual, who had been seen to be oppressed by the "bourgeoisie" was oppressed, repressed, suppressed, and treated as a cog in the machine that was the communist "collective." Communism claimed that capitalism made the little guy "the cog" in the machine, and then turned around and made the little guy "the cog" in the communist machine.

In terms of gaining individual rights, nothing changed. In fact, quality of life decreased, and personal choice and freedom evaporated. The individual did what the collective demanded of them. Individual goals were considered irrelevant, in light of furthering the "great communist revolution", and the "Cause of the proletariat."

As mentioned, with trade unions, one gives up individual decisions to the party for protection. When the union cannot reach an agreement with employers, all employees are required to strike to show their support for the common cause, regardless of whether they can at that time afford to strike. Strikebreakers are often coerced with force into compliance. The communists used force to demand compliance, too. It should be fairly obvious that unions and communism represent tribal mentality and the absence of individual free will. Mob rule and force are the order of the day.

Obviously, communism and unions do not work for everyone [despite the claim that they are for everyone]. Take for example, a bodybuilder who is with a well-known supplement company, but whose contract is dropped in favor of a blonde haired cartoon character dubbed to be "invincible." Also suppose that this bodybuilder is unable to do the Mr. Olympia because of economic considerations. Then take a bodybuilder who they call "the blade" that has a contract with another well-known supplement company.

If the bodybuilding union of the day is unable to reach an agreement with the professional federation, a strike will occur. Obviously one of the two bodybuilders will be in a better position to eat and pay rent, while the other will not. But such differences will not matter to the collective, as all will be required [forced] to strike.

I am suggesting that unions are bad for bodybuilding on a personal level. I am also suggesting that unions are bad for bodybuilding on an organizational level as well. Consider the following scenario.

It is 1996 and the Mr. Olympia is set to begin. A union was introduced in 1995, and so ticket prices were increased and are now $750 each. The cost increase is due to the introduction of a union. But there is one problem - two weeks before the show, the bodybuilders union declares its intention to strike unless an agreement is reached between the bodybuilders and the professional establishment. Two weeks pass and at midnight the day before the show, a strike is declared and the show canceled.

As a result of the canceled show, supplement companies become reluctant to invest in future shows or sponsor athletes to compete, because the certainty of shows actually occurring is shaken. Ticket prices rise even higher to offset the costs of lost sponsors.

Less and less fans can afford tickets, and fewer athletes can afford to compete because their costs rise, too. Many athletes must choose between paying rent and feeding their children or competing, and the choice is not a difficult one: family comes first. Because they miss shows, athletes lose money.

Because they lose money, they must now miss shows. The cycle is infinite. The quality of the shows decrease because while some average athletes can afford to compete, really good ones may not be able to afford it. This results in even less people paying huge ticket prices to come to shows.

Less revenue will result in smaller shows, and less athletes. Bodybuilding begins to shrink and become more expensive. Ticket prices are now beyond the budget consideration of the average person. To offset the costs, bodybuilding magazine prices increase. Less and less people can afford the literature of the day. Now, bodybuilding's media coverage shrinks. Bodybuilding spirals down further and further into the abyss. It is unable to recover from the crippling convulsions it faced at the hand of the trade unions and strikes.

If the principal present in the illustration above is not clear to you by now, just think about professional baseball. I don't think anymore needs to be said.

In all counts, unions for bodybuilding are a bad idea. In fact, they are the worst idea that has ever been presented. What, then, is the solution? If unions are not the answer, how is it that the life of the bodybuilder can be improved? How is it that both the athletes and the federation can win, while improving the quality of life for everyone?

-> Capitalism And Economics:

The beginnings of civilization are privatization and capitalism (Rand, 1974). A historical examination of early Mesopotamian society reveals a dramatic increase in quality of life when early peoples learned agriculture (Noble et al, 2002). In Mesopotamian society, tribalism was broken and individualism emerged.

The introduction of agriculture to early peoples introduced the concept of savings and time. Farming allowed one to escape from the hand-to-mouth existence that nomadic tribes endured. Farming established a home base from which to operate.

In nomadic times, one had to spend time hunting to satisfy biological requirements. Nature imposed upon man a time limit for this satisfaction. If one went without food for prolonged periods of time, death resulted. Agriculture enabled man to plant seed, wait for it to germinate, and then harvest it. A surplus in perishable agriculture allowed man to trade his excess for other goods, which were not as perishable, thus extending his life and allowing him more control over his existence.

Money evolved as a response to this agricultural surplus. Money is a symbol of future reward. For example, if I were to buy a sandwich with the money in my pocket, my labor acquired that money in the past. In the same sense, the farmer who has excess crop may acquire money to spend in the future for his survival. This is the function of money - it represents the savings of today's goods toward tomorrow's survival. The development of economy and trade from agriculture resulted in a population explosion and improved quality of life. It also resulted in the specialization of labor.

Moving ahead to pre-industrialized Europe, Feudalism had dominated Europe since the Sumerians, and perhaps earlier. Kings and Queens would rule the populace, their word being a divine command. When the King spoke, it was done. The King did all, and the King owned all. In many societies [Egypt, Assyria] the King was believed to be divine and beyond reproach.

In the Feudal system there were two classes: The Nobility and the Serfs. Wealthy landowners hired serfs as laborers. The serfs would farm the land owned by the Nobles, and would swear to protect him from harm. In return, the serfs would be fed and provided with a means to make a living. However, despite all of this, Feudalism was still a tyranny.

The industrial revolution in Europe also saw an increase in population and quality of life. In the century prior to the industrialization of Europe, the population grew by a rate of 3% per one hundred years. In the decade following the revolution a population explosion of 300% was seen! Mathematically, this is an increase of 1000%!

Because of the industrial revolution, the economy developed, trade increased and there was a demand for laborers. The poor class finally had a way to make a living beyond hand to mouth existence. Clearly, capitalism was having a huge impact on industrialized Europe.

Obviously no system is perfect and the often the poor were exploited. In retrospect, however, the capitalism being nurtured by the industrial revolution in Europe would prove far better at improving quality of life than the feudalism with which Europe was familiar, and to the communism which it would later be forced to endure.

At this point you may be asking: How does any of this relate to bodybuilding and whether or not it should unionize? The answer is IN EVERY WAY!

-> Conclusion:

Consider the Oligarchy of the current bodybuilding establishment. At the present time there are two individuals that maintain control: Ben and Joe Weider. Beneath these men there are a class of "bodybuilding nobility" consisting of the IFBB Chairmen, members of the board of directors, and owners of the supplement companies. Beneath these people are the serfs of bodybuilding: The athletes. The sad fact is that bodybuilders go and do what the nobility wants, when the nobility says. The power is currently concentrated at the top.

Those that call for bodybuilding unions [Shawn Ray, among others] propose empowering each individual. In theory this is a great idea, but the error of this suggestion lies not in the intent, but the method. Unions are communistic and serve to cripple capitalistic based entities. As shown in the scenario, unions have resulted in the destruction of entire countries.

An examination of the history of Europe will reveal three distinct phases through which society has moved: Feudalism [Monarchy], Communism, and Capitalism. Of the three, only one has resulted in an improvement in the quality of life of all people: Capitalism.

At the moment, as mentioned, bodybuilding is Feudalistic: It has a King [two "princes" to be accurate]. Many are now proposing a communistic approach. I propose a capitalistic approach. I propose skipping stage two of the cycle altogether. Learning from Europe's mistakes will save everyone a lot of trouble in the long run.

Having said that, Capitalism does not mean exploitation. It is NOT synonymous with profiteering. As a system, capitalism exists to improve the quality of life of man. It should do exactly that.

So, the question then is: How does one apply a truly capitalistic ideology to bodybuilding? I propose the following:

  • Have bodybuilding federation officials elected [not appointed] by athletes and owners alike. One man, one vote.
  • Disclosure of salary for those in bodybuilding [owners and athletes] who make over $100 000 per year.
  • Set limits on election campaign donations and campaign spending.
  • Require candidates to disclose donation sources. Demand transparency.
  • Create an independent body composed of athletes and owners to observe election procedures.
  • Set fixed terms for those elected, and allow limited terms. This will prevent the cronyism for which bodybuilding is infamous.
  • Have elected judges, and rotate them. The same judges that judged a contest last year should not judge the same one the following year.
  • Equalize the number of votes between owners and athletes, and determine election results based on equal distribution. This will prevent lopsided elections. It will "even the playing field" and promote electoral fairness.
  • Establish a minimum purse for athletes who qualify for shows. This will at least offset the athlete costs of attending and preparing. If the minimum purse is $1000, and the athlete has six relatives that attend the show, and tickets are $700 each, the profit for the organization after the purse is deducted is $3200. It makes economic sense, for everyone. Even baseball pays the worst player more than 10 times what the average IFBB pro earns. This is inexcusable.
  • Further develop farm system for pro ranks.
  • Develop professional IFBB rulebook [does not exists as of this writing].
  • Establish independent drug testing body that delivers drug results and determines athletes standing in shows [whether they are disqualified or not, based on whether they pass the drug test or not]. There should be equal treatment for an athlete if he tests positive for synthol, whether he is 1st place, or 10th [some will know to which situation I refer].

To conclude, the current situation in bodybuilding must change. Its feudalistic nature has resulted in starving athletes [some of whom have resorted to prostitution to survive and to get their steroids]. The unionization of bodybuilding as proposed by some will be very destructive and may ruin the way of life to which many turn to survive and self-actualize. Mob rule is a regression. True capitalism is the only method of governance by which the quality of life of man may be improved. This is as true for bodybuilders as for any athlete.

When, and if, true capitalism is ever introduced into bodybuilding dramatic changes will occur, but only if the reforms above are implemented. Only when bodybuilding becomes a capitalistic democracy will the situation improve for all concerned.

-> Reference List:

Durham, W.H. (1991). Coevolution: genes, culture and human diversity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Myers, D.G. (2001). Psychology: sixth edition. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
Noble, T.F.X., Strauss, B.S., Osheim, D.J., Neuschel, K.B., Cohen, W.B., Roberts, D.D. (2002). Western civilization: the continuing experiment. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Noble, et al. (2002). Western civilization: the continuing experiment. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Rand, A. (1974). Philosophy: who needs it. New York, NY: Signet.
Russell, H. Tuttle. (1986). Apes of the World: Their Social Behaviour, Communication, Mentality, and Ecology. Park Ridge, NJ: Noyes Publications.
Sicotte, P. (1994). Effect of male competition on male-female relationships in bi-male units of mountain gorillas. Ethnology, 97:47-64.

-> Disclaimer:

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